I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
In the original 1855 text, the first line read simply, “I celebrate myself.” Interestingly, despite Whitman’s trailblazing preference for free (unmetered) verse—which he uses throughout this poem—the addition of “I sing myself” makes the opening line scan as perfect iambic pentameter. In general, Leaves of Grass tends to sound iambic at parts even if the meter is not highly stressed.
Whitman uses soft consonant sounds to ease his reader into his poem. Make note of where those repeated soft sounds (“s”) are made—in the mouth, with one’s tongue. The “place” in your body in which you “make” the words in the poem will come into play as you move through the poem.
“Assume” could refer to assuming a certain idea or perspective. It could also refer to a position. To tell the reader “what I assume you shall assume” requires courage and perhaps signals a certain dominance.
Note that “assume” can also mean “to don a garment or identity,” which Whitman does with various types of people later in the poem.
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